Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Window 8 – Twenty Second Pass: Windows 8.1 The Start Button Treachery

One of the biggest changes to Windows 8 with Windows 8.1 is the addition of the Start Button back into the operating system.  While some may cheer this as a victory against the man it really isn’t all that big of a deal and is mostly just a trick to make you think Microsoft likes you.

It is very important to point out that while the Start Button has returned to the place where it has live on the desktop since 1995 it does not function the same way in terms of opening a Start Menu.  The Start Menu essentially is still dead. 

The “new” Start Button allows users to click what they have been used to clicking for decades in order to access their apps but instead of opening the Start Menu it simply takes you back to the Start Screen.  The same thing could be accomplished by pressing the Windows button on the keyboard or by tapping or clicking the Start icon on the charms menu. Again, it just allows users to have the familiar icon to click on.

The real value to this new button however is the right click.  Right clicking on the Start Button brings up an improved system menu.  You could access this same menu in Windows 8 by pressing Windows-X.  The new system menu includes the option Shut Down or Sign Out, which expands into the familiar Sign Out, Sleep, Shut Down, and Restart options.  This is an improvement because now with the mouse, I can log out or I can reboot like I used to by clicking on the Start Button without having to get the charms menu up or go back to the Start Screen or lock screen.  I think this will make it easier for desktop users to make the switch to Windows 8 as a familiar routine has returned.

The real treachery though is that the use of the Start Button is not consistent throughout the Windows 8.1 experience.  It only appears when running the desktop or running desktop apps.  It does not appear on the Start Screen or when running any of the Start Screen apps.  In that experience, you have to use the Windows key or the charms menu.  That means the user has to be more aware of what mode they are using the hardware in – for some users that isn’t a big deal but for others it may be very confusing.  Think about your grandma.

A unified operating system experience should be unified, not just between devices but also between operating modes for the same device.

Window 8 – Twenty First Pass: Windows 8.1 Touch Screen Updates

One of the challenges early on with Windows 8 was the heavy emphasis on the touch environment in a world lacking touch devices.  Much has changed over the past year as almost any new device you’d purchase; with the exception of most desktop monitors and some laptops are touch screen devices.  As a result, the touch interface is becoming more and more prevalent.

While that is great for home users and most personal machines the vast majority of business machines still do not have touch screens.  That makes it fun for users who are used to a touch device at home and then get frustrated tapping the screen at work and watching as nothing happens.  This could explain the increase in pen holes in LCD monitors the world over.  This may also create an increase in BYOD as folks get used to and want to maintain their touch environment.

That said the touch features in Windows 8.1 have been improved upon.  I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that some of these features are very similar to operating systems like iOS and Android.

There have been several swiping improvements:
  • You can now swipe down to get to the camera from the lock screen.  Very handy if you use your Surface or other device for taking pictures while locked.
  • In Windows 8, you could swipe an app in from the left and it would take up half the screen.  In Windows 8.1, you can swipe the app in from the left and then drag it to determine how much of the screen you want each app to have.  Windows 8.1 also allows you to have multiple apps doing this based on your resolution.  A Surface can only split the screen and do 2 apps however, a larger monitor can do up to 5 apps depending on the resolution.  Of course, if you were doing this on a larger monitor you wouldn’t be using the touch interface but rather the mouse to drag each app in.
  • Some apps will also automatically launch splitting the screen in side-by-side mode.  This is for things like reading your email and opening a picture.  Instead of your email going away, the screen would split and you’d see the picture in the photo app next to the email app allowing you to automatically view both at once.
  • All apps from the start menu can now be accessed by simply swiping up, but not up from the bottom of the screen, you want to swipe up from above the bottom otherwise you get the bottom menu.  This makes it easy to see All Apps and not just those on the Start Menu.
  • The PC Configuration settings have also been improved so you can control more with the touch interface and slide switches to turn things off.  This means you don’t have to visit the desktop control pane as often.
  • Several of the build in Start Screen apps like Mail and Calendar have also been improve to provide much greater functionality from the touch screen.  I have found both to be very useful when using my Surface without a mouse or keyboard or even the touch pen.
Fortunately you can still do all of this with the mouse.  Granted you have to learn how to do everything 2 different ways but that may help make the transition from touch to non-touch devices either.

The ultimate goal is for Windows 8 and future version to be the all-in-one OS allowing for touch, non-touch, phone, and tablet to all be the same user experience.  Whether Microsoft can pull this off and keep the rest of us going along with it remains to be seen.

Touch or not to touch, that is the question.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Emergency Landing and a Website Failure

When you travel a lot, the odds are in your favor that something is going to happen at some point at some time that delays you, jams you up, leave you stranded somewhere, and generally adds a bit of excitement to your life.

This morning was my morning to catch up on that.  I boarded a Delta flight headed for San Francisco from Indianapolis with a brief stop in Minneapolis.  Our MD-90 aircraft took off and I promptly dozed off.  I was awakened when a flight attendant rushed passed me bumping my shoulder.  A few seconds later, she said we were making an emergency landing in Chicago.

The announcement woke me up and I looked around trying to figure out why.  The ascent had been pretty bumpy due to some weather in the area but I didn’t notice anything else wrong.  She then came back on and said there was a problem in the galley and we would be landing in Chicago in 10 minutes.  She told us not to be afraid but as the flight crew walked up and down the aisle, you could tell they were nervous.

I tried to jump online to inform my faithful followers of the fun I was about to experience but the internet wasn’t on.  Either we never reached 10,000 feet or they left it off due to the emergency. It was difficult to tell what our altitude was as we were flying through clouds and a lot of rain.

With the nose of the plane pointing down we began one of the fastest descents I’ve ever been through on our way to land at O’Hare.  As we descended and all started feeling lighter I felt a tap on my shoulder from the kid sitting behind me.  He had to be a teenager.  I turned around and he had slipped off his noise cancelling headphones and due to the rapid descent had a pressing question.  He said, "Dude, what's going on." Before I could mess with him and say something like, "Nothing much, the plane is just going down." the guy sitting across the aisle from him told him the true story.

Our pilots declared an emergency so after our quick descent we landed with full emergency vehicle escort at O’Hare.  We landed hard, probably due to the plane being heavy with fuel, and then stopped briefly on the runway while the emergency vehicles on the ground surrounded the plane.  The pilot told us to stay seated. 

After a minute, we taxied off the runway and stopped.  The pilot then told us there was an item overheating in the galley and the fire department was going to inspect the plane.  He then reminded us to stay seated. I figured we were good since it was pouring rain outside.

A few minutes later, we started to taxi towards the gate.  The fire trucks stayed right with us.  The pilot told us when we got to the gate to leave anything in the overhead bins behind and quickly exit the plane into the terminal.  In no time, we were at the gate and quickly filing off as firemen walked around the aircraft.

I typically fly with a carry-on bag but this time all I had was my backpack as I’m going to be gone for over a week and had to check my bag.  I grabbed my backpack and walked off the plane.  The jet bridge was full of fire fighters and fire extinguishers.  Once in the terminal I breathed a small sigh of relief and then started working on my next problem – getting from Chicago to San Francisco.

I quickly jumped on my Delta app but was not able to login.  I tried several times but the app wouldn’t work so I wasn’t able to rebook myself. The lines at the gate were rather long as 120 people were also trying to get rebooked.  Therefore, I went old school.  I took a page from my 1997 playbook and actually called the 800 number for Delta while standing in one of the lines.

I found out later that Delta had a complete site failure and that no one could check in for a flight or do anything.  I’m pretty sure the two incidents aren’t related but trying to rebook old school and not being able to look up any data online was interesting to say the least.  Even the airport kiosks weren’t working and were unable to find my confirmation number. 

A quick side note, as an IT person who deals with system failures all the time it was nice to know that even the big guys have major issues. 

I was hoping to catch a direct flight from Chicago to San Francisco but Delta doesn’t have one.  The best bet for me was to continue on with the broken plane once it got fixed to Minneapolis and then catch a later flight to San Francisco.  That also kept me with my bags that were still on the broken plane.  All told, I would end up getting to SFO 3 hours later than originally scheduled.  Not only that, but she also provided me with guaranteed upgrades to first on both legs of the flight, to MSP and to SFO.  It sounded good to me, so I took the deal.  I had my problem solved long before the majority of the folks standing in the long lines.  The only variable was whether they would get the plane fixed in time for me to get to MSP to catch the later flight to SFO.

The folks at Delta in Chicago did a great job keeping us informed.  They replaced the part but they also had another part coming in on another flight from Atlanta just in case the fix they had already completed didn’t completely solve the problem. 

Two and a half hours later, they boarded the plane again to continue.  There were only 27 people left as most had been rebooked and I heard one guy say he wasn’t getting back on that plane no matter what.

When we arrived in Minneapolis, we were all given a $10 food voucher for our trouble.  As I write this I’m on a different MD-90 making my way west.  My thanks to all the folks at Delta who worked hard to keep us safe and get us to our destinations.  I hope that if you ever hear the words “emergency landing” over the PA on a flight you are on that you are treated as professionally as the Delta folks treated us.

Oh, I guess I should finish the story.  Turns out the module just behind the cockpit that controls the flight attendant intercom went bad and ended up melting a few wires.  We saw several of the wires that had the protecting coating melting off.  This module didn’t affect the PA but my guess is since the intercom is important during flight and since it got so hot do close to the flight deck that they thought it best to land quickly and get it fixed.  A fire in the air would have been a very bad thing.

Update: 10/19/13
Yesterday I received an email from the Delta VP of Customer Relations apologizing for the "report of smoke in the cabin" that caused our troubles.  The email acknowledged that such events can be disturbing and said we would each be getting 10,000 miles added to our accounts.  It would appear that Delta gets it.  Not only did they apologize profusely for something that wasn't their fault but they took responsibility and are compensating their customers.  This is why I fly Delta and will continue to do so.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Window 8 - Twentith Pass: Windows 8.1 Upgrade Gotcha's

Since Microsoft relented and finally agreed to give IT Pros access to Windows 8.1 RTM, I was able to install it on my Surface Pro. The install was easy enough. I installed it from a USB stick that contained the ISO files. Why the download is only in an ISO format when the Surface line and most tablets don’t have optical drive is a bit beyond me but it is easy enough to convert to a USB stick.

The install went pretty quick but there are a few gotchas after the upgrade that I don’t fully understand. Here is what to look out for:
  1. The drivers for my Toshiba DynaDock disappeared. They were totally gone. I’m not sure why but I had to reinstall them as there is an August update that includes support for Windows 8.1. I’m not sure if the install removes drivers not compatible with 8.1 or not but I had to reinstall the Toshiba drivers for 8.1 and then the dock started working again.

  2. SkyDrive is majorly updated in 8.1. With Windows 8, I ran the desktop app to keep my SkyDrive folder up-to-date. When I logged in after upgrading, I noticed SkyDrive was no longer an app. Again, the entire app was gone. All that was left in the SkyDrive folder in Programs and Drivers was an install file. The reason for the change is the Start Screen version of SkyDrive included in Windows 8.1 now does all the stuff the desktop app used to have to do. To enable the app to keep your files available offline in the SkyDrive folder on This PC (it is no longer called My Computer) launch SkyDrive from the Start Screen, go to settings from the Charms Menu and then enable Offline Files. Now there is no longer a need for the desktop version, although you can install it and duplicate the effort if you want to.

  3. The Start Button is back but it just opens the Start Screen. What is nice though is the Windows-X command now has a Shutdown and Restart option on it like the old Start menu had. You can also get this by right clicking on the Start Button.

  4. A few other options that are nice:
  • You can now make your Windows Desktop wallpaper your Start Screen image. 
  • You can now boot directly to your desktop and make the desktop your default go-to as opposed to the Start Screen. 
These options are available by right clicking the taskbar and selecting Properties. Then go to the Navigation Tab and look under Start Screen. 
More to come I’m sure as Windows 8.1 gets closer to the public release on October 18. Although most corporate environments are still running Windows XP and 7 it remains to be seen if Microsoft will continue upgrading on an annual basis and if the gap between the real world and the latest releases continues to grow wider.